Titanium Race Review: Overall [+++++++ Seven Titanium Crosses TITANIUM LEVEL standard]
It was my first time to join the CHRIS SPORTS EPIC RELAY event, it being the second time that they pushed through with the event. And all I can say is that it is the best of its class in terms of race organization, race route and overall race management. It is the second most memorable and most challenging race event that I’ve joined for this year, only coming in at second place next to the BDM160 of Bald Runner events and finally it is the best of its class in terms of its unique category of being the longest relay event in the country and should be an event that the best teams in running in the world to join. Indeed, it is an EPIC RELAY that lives up to its theme of Outrun, Outpace, Outlast. I hope that the race organizers will move towards ensuring that more teams join in its third installment, with more challenges. I am sure to look forward to its third year. Incidentally, this is the third event in my years of doing races that I have given the Titanium Level standard. [All photos used for this race review, except for the Epic Relay event poster were taken by Jojo Pauly Photography and are copyright protected by its photographer]
- Event Promotion [+++++ Five Titanium Crosses] Does this event even need to promote itself? Truth is, it no longer needs a lot of promotion. Although it has been promoted by top running blogs, magazines and even in various forms of traditional media — I really do not see a need to spend a lot in promoting this event because the sheer word of mouth of the first event itself became a thing of legend. I remember teammates in TEAM UNGAS who joined its first event. I recall how they shared about the various teams trying to outdo and outpace each other. I even remember how some really was gearing up to make up for their losses during its first run. And indeed, they were ready for the second EPIC RELAY as some running colleagues and friends bagged the grand prizes in their respective categories. Congratulations to POWERPUFF BOYS All-Men and Mixed Category of the EPIC RELAY 2012! You have earned it and this is indeed your time to shine! You have made history running the entire course pretty in pink!
Still, if CHRIS SPORTS intends to attract more international teams to join this event — then it would have to truly venture in advertising online. This will be great because I believe in the spirit of sportsmanship. I also believe that we Filipinos only get to really try harder when we see and compete against other nationals. There’s this thought of not wanting to lose against other countries in one’s very territory.
- Race Bible and Program Orientation [+++++ Five out of Five Titanium Crosses] Though I am not the team leader of RUN 24/7 (the team that I was part of during the Epic Relay), I was sent a soft copy of the Race Bible and the team leader, Katie Caluya gave me a summary of what transpired during the program orientation and meeting of the various team captains for the Epic Relay event. I was trying to think where was I during that time that the orientation was happening? Then it dawned on me that while they were having their meeting, I was going home wet, muddy and sleepy from the Merrell Adventure Race in Rizal. Still, I was really amazed at the level of detail that was poured into the race bible. The first time that I’ve encountered a race event that had this level of detail was during last year’s MILO MARATHON event. All those who joined the 42k event was given a printed version of the race event, which covered detailed maps and even words of encouragement from the various stakeholders of the event. For the EPIC RELAY, the organizers opted for a soft copy version which the various teams could print on their own. This is good considering that some would have opted to download and browse through the race maps and mechanics using tablets instead of printing them out. It is an efficient way of saving resources too. Still, it would be great to have a fully printed version of the race bible too. Perhaps when more people join in the event this can be made possible.
- Categories [+++++ Five Titanium Crosses] One of the unique updates of the EPIC RELAY is that for this year, they had five different categories that teams can choose from. One, the ALL-MEN event. This was bagged by the POWERPUFF BOYS. Two, there’s the MIXED category where another team of the POWERPUFF BOYS (and girls) bagged the championship. Three, there’s a Corporate category for those representing their office. I saw a few teams such as SMART Communications and even HP was there under a different team name. I guess that means that the team from HP could only be a group of friends and not really representing their office? Fourth, there’s the ULTRA edition, which requires only five runners and each one will be running close to 50 kilometers. Fifth is the CALL CENTER group, where four groups were gunning the top spot for this one. I really and utterly enjoyed the EPIC RELAY seeing the various groups running and getting to know them at the different check points along the route. I learned that some of them already joined the first edition and just wanted to experience it again such as the case for the team MOVES LIKE JOGGER.
Speaking of which, I really love how the race organizers came up with a contest for BEST TEAM NAME and BEST TEAM COSTUME. I was too tired to linger and even attend the awarding ceremonies, so I just wonder who actually won in those categories. But mind you, there were interesting and fun group names in this year’s EPIC RELAY! For insance, there’s one team that is called BRATS. It stands for Bankers Running Against Themselves. Pretty cool and original if you ask me. It is a new twist to the word BRAT. I would hardly call bankers BRATS considering that most bankers I know are very disciplined, strict about themselves and are a little hard to please in general. It has to do with the very nature of their profession that requires absolute precision similar to that of doctors and nurses. Although in their case, it has to deal with money and other financial services. Then there’s this group called WE’LL RUN FOR BEER FOR E-BEER! As a beer drinker ( I love San Miguel Pale Pilsen, which is indicative of my age!), this really caught my fancy and I even asked to have my photo taken with the runners that I saw with their support vehicle. If you take a look at the photo, their logo is a beer mug that runs! Isn’t that something original? I also interviewed them on their favorite beer and believe me, they really are beer drinkers as they know the difference between a pilsen from other brews of beer!
- Race Route [+++++++ Seven Titanium Crosses] The Epic Relay is not for the faint hearted and neither is it something that amateur runners or newbie runners should even attempt. One, the race route offers the challenges that reflects the difficulty of a MILO race event, the beauty of a The North Face trail run, the heat of despair and perspiration of battling inner demons of the Bataan Death March Ultramarathon and the fun and excitement of a CEBU Marathon event. In short, try to imagine having all the best features of these four race events and you will get the picture of how challenging the race route really is. And I am speaking in my behalf alone. I did three legs of the EPIC RELAY. Since I was the opening salvo of the team, I experienced the first leg of the EPIC RELAY. It was a good thing that I studied the race map ahead of time. I talked to my team captain about this and I told her that the first leg is an uphill challenge!
The first leg takes on a new definition on the phrase “I eat hills for breakfast” since the hilly first 10 kilometers of the event made me feel like I was having the main course and not breakfast. Yup, that is how challenging the Epic Relay is on my end. I had to contend with a challenging route that went up a steady incline as the first leg of the race was gearing up towards an assault run to Mt. Samat, where from there I did the 11th leg of the Epic Relay. But before moving on to describe my second leg, I just want to describe the first leg here.
To start off, I got lost during the first kilometer. I utterly missed the directional marker! I felt desperate and even discouraged when I literally hit a closed gate somewhere inside SBMA. I did not know where to go and had to look for where I should take a turn. So for about 15 minutes, I had to look around and even sought the help of the bike marshalls that were assigned to watch over me. I was able to find my way and then I kept to the road and did my best to run faster up the hills towards the next check point. I managed to finish the first 11.4 kilometers in 1 hour and 15 minutes. This is not so bad considering that I got lost close to 15 minutes. It also made me realize that because of the pressure of the event itself, I was running much faster than usual. I guess the knowing that there’s real competition and that I was running for the team made me strive harder and run harder. It was tough for me since I was still recovering from my injury that I incurred from the Mayon 360. Four weeks of no running and I only had two weeks of short distance running prior to the Epic Relay event. I was not in my full running condition so I am just happy to have been able to run well during the first leg. It is for this reason that I am glad that I decided to wear ON RUNNING shoes for this part of the race. One, ON RUNNING is known for their great support and cushioning. Two, ON RUNNING is my recovery running shoes. And believe me, I am still recovering from my injuries and would need to bounce back faster. These pair of shoes has really helped me get back to running again. [for more on ON RUNNING shoes, they are available at CHRIS SPORTS stores nationwide]. I hope that REEBOK will have recovery running shoes soon. Other brands are having recovery slippers and shoes already. Overall, it felt great reaching the second check point as I had the time to change clothes, drink up and even eat a little and talk to other running teams that were waiting for their respective runner.
In between legs of the races, I met some ultramarathon friends and was able to catch up with what is happening with their lives. It is great to see you guys again. Hope to see you again in other race events!
In the second leg, the challenge was dealing with running ownhill. Uphill running had the challenge of breathing hard. In downhill running, the challenge is the quad muscles and the knees as it takes the beating of hitting the ground much faster moving faster than usual. One has to control one’s running much more in running downhill than uphill, and the Mt. Samat road is not exactly in its best condition either. It was a good idea that I decided to change shoes. I wore my REEBOK Trail Cutter during this leg of the race. The road was rough with all the potholes. Generally speaking, the rough road added to the beauty of the race course though I am sure for those driving cars, this did not make them happy. I love the route of going downhill Mt. Samat because it offered fantastic views of the entire province of Bataan from both sides of the mountain. As far as the eye could see, it was mostly greenery that I saw and this was not the agricultural greenery that I saw. It was acres and miles of forested areas. It was an amazing view and an amazing experience running down the road and admiring the scenery. Nothing by the road, the rustling of the wind against the leaves to keep me company and the setting sun to keep me company as I made my way to the next check point at Bagac, Bataan. Incidentally, Bagac is the hometown of the TIANGCO clan. Although sadly, I do not know any relative who lives in that area anymore these days. It has been close to 20 years since I’ve last been to this town. I covered close to 10 kilometers for this leg in less than an hour. Not bad! It truly felt good to feel that I was coming back into my full running form. I know I am not there yet though. But this is great news for me considering I’ve just returned to training runs again for just two weeks.
I utterly enjoyed the thrill of running downhills but I admit that my glutes are still in pain from all the uphills and downhill running. More than my knees taking a beating, it was my other muscle groups that felt the pain of all those hard pavement, concrete and trail. So here’s me checking out the amount of sweat that I incurred after finishing my second leg of the Epic Relay.
One of the highlights for me in this race is that it went through areas that are not open to the public. It went inside the Bataan Economic Zone, where to my surprise looked more like an enclosed forested area more than an area where economic activity is taking place. It also went inside the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, which is one of the things that Philippine government is till paying for but is not using. It’s a huge facility and the area is covered with a thick forest. It is an amazing race route that I am thankful for the race organizers. Arleen, you are an amazing woman to have pulled off coordinating all the meetings with two local government agencies and managing to get these enclosed areas to be experienced by an average runner like me. Thank you. The Epic Relay became a memorable event for me through this experience alone.
The second highlight for me is seeing the special Bataan Death March commemorative markers along the route going to Mt. Samat! I requested the team to take a pit stop at one of these kilometer markers and I had my photo taken by Jojo Pauly, my personal photographer for this race event and fellow ultramarathoner. Many of the special commemorative markers were already experiencing the wear and tear due to the elements and I even noticed some of them have already deteriorated to the point that it was a bit of a challenge recognizing them as they lost their white paint and markings. In addition, some had tall grass surrounding the markers that one had to be keen to look out for them in order to see them. I was even more appalled when fellow colleagues and office mates of mine would ask me about details of the BDM history. It saddens me that most of our people hardly know our own heritage and history it seems.
The third leg that I did was Leg 21, which was a short uphill climb close to 6 kilometers. It would run its course via the Zambales National Highway and I would end my running at the town of Subic. I started the run at pass three in the morning. The first part of the course I went uphill were the side of the mountain was the local cemetery. With most of the moon shining through and lighting my run, it felt creepy running across the highway but it also felt serene at the same time. It felt great running uphill as the highway was almost desolate at that time. There were precious few vehicles that traversed the national road that that time of the night. But as I entered the towns, the highway came to life again with the various pubs and discos that were pulsating with life! There were drunken men and women cheering me on! There were women and men who looked and dressed like women who were also calling out to me to take some time off running and have a good time. Ha! That actually made me run faster than usual since I was afraid of being man-handled! So imagine to my surprise that I actually managed to pull off reaching the next check point at just about 38 minutes. It felt great! And the night sky was starting to change into a color of pale blue from the black velvet sky that sparkled with the stars. Yes, I lacked proper sleep even though there was enough time to rest in between race legs. Still, the silence, admiring the night sky and the cool weather that the early morning weather offered.
- Race Marshal Cyclists [+++++++ Seven Titanium Crosses] For this year’s Epic Relay, they utilized road cyclists to be the road marshals. From what I saw and experienced, there are two marshalls assigned to a runner. They would tag along a running group and their respective runner for every leg of the race. And mind you, I noticed that the road marshalls assinged to our team RUN 24/7 was with us during the entire leg of the race event! Though there were times that there was only one race marshal as the other one had to rest and eat. Still, it was pretty amazing because these men did not sleep at all. They stuck it out watching over us and even guided us in areas that the directional markers were hard to locate. Although some race marshalls disappeared and could no longer support other running teams at certain times of the day of the race event. This is understandable since the race marshalls did not have someone else to replace them. Still, they did an amazing job. We are eternally grateful to these cyclists who really went out of their way to serve this weekend. Thank you so much and I hope that one of you guys would actually have the opportunity to read this race review I made since you are by far the best race marshals I have experienced for any race event.
- Race Venue [+++++++ Seven Titanium Crosses] There’s really not much to say about the race venue. The thing about the race venue is that there was adequate parking space for all the teams that joined the event. This would probably the one thing that race organizers would have to think about in the future as they expand the contenders for this event and as more teams become more interested to join in and have their fun at the Epic Relay. Choosing the provinces of Zambales and Bataan to stage the Epic Relay is probably the best thing that CHRIS SPORTS did. It made the two provinces shine as it was able to showcase the best that the province has to offer. It is also a boost to the local tourism scene. Can you believe it that all the major and smaller hotels in that area were fully booked?!? To think that June is considered to be the start of the lean season for most hotels because of the start of the school calendar in the Philippines.
- Race Medal and Souvenir Shirt [+++++] There’s something different about the race medal of the Epic Relay. I think it doubles as a bottle opener. Try to take a look at that opening. I notice that there’s a trend going on for relay events. They tend to be square medals or squares instead of traditional circular ones.
- Technical Race Director/Race Organizer [+++++++ Seven Titanium Crosses] I had a chance to read the back portion of the race volunteers and I read that the technical race director for this event is none other than Neville M______! That both gave me a level of confidence and also made me raise my eyebrow. Why? For one thing, Neville is known to create one of the most insane race courses that any international leg of The North Face ever had. It is for this reason why many of my ultrarunning colleagues decided to DNF last April. In addition, I was utterly disappointed about TNF100 CAMSUR event as it had important aspects of the race event that became an EPIC FAILURE. In fact, similar to the Condura Marathon 2012, I have yet to blog about the TNF100 CAMSUR experience. In both events, I registered and paid for ALL expenses related to the said event. So when I found out that he was handling TNF this year, I completely boycotted the event. Had I known that Neville was the technical race director of this event, I would have boycotted this event. They say that we need to give people a second chance? Well, perhaps we should if it does not involve spending vast amounts of money and not feeling shortchanged.
So when I say that this is his best race event to date, I say this from having four years of race events that I’ve joined where he was the race director and technical race director. This is an experience that I have enjoyed so much that I would encourage that the different running teams out there to make this event a team event to join in. Should CHRIS SPORTS maintain quality of their race events similar to this EPIC RELAY, then it will be an event to beat that can compete with other popular race events out there.
Neville, congratulations to you and your team for pulling off the best and the most organized event I’ve been to that you’ve created. Here’s hoping you will keep on outdoing yourself.
Things That Can Be Improved Further:
- Awarding Ceremonies [++ Two out of Five Titanium Crosses]
We went to the event venue about an hour prior to the arrival of our last runner. Our last runner Daryl Ventura of Run 24/7 was already running the last leg of the Epic Relay at that time that we went to the event venue. From there, we inquired about an item and also inquired about the awarding ceremonies. I learned at that time that they originally planned the awarding to take place at 2pm and someone even mentioned it will happen at 3pm! The main reason why they wanted it to be at that time is so that most of the teams would have reached the finish line by then. I then talked to the race organizers and told them that most of the teams were already tired, sleepy and would rather go home than watch the awarding ceremonies considering that many of the team would not be part of the awarding anyway. So what’s the point in staying around just to watch other people?
I later got a text from one of the event partners, Arvee Salazar who happens to handle the Call Center Olympics and is managing Popcorn Events. She mentioned that it was moved to 12 noon and by the time that she sent that message, the entire team of Run 24/7 was already having a sumptious team meal at Meat Plus which was also within SBMA complex where all the different restaurants were lined up. Hence, we missed the awarding ceremonies and just dropped by after our meals were all done. And I was right. The team was too tired to even go around Subic. We opted to just go home and catch up on our sleep since all of us were still reporting for work the next day.
In summary, I highly encourage the organizers to consider having a formal dinner for the different running teams much similar to the what the organizers of the IRONMAN events do locally. One, it would give enough time for the race organizers to handle complaints and check discrepancies of the times of the various teams should there be complaints about cheating. Second, it also gives enough time for the different teams to rest and also focus on the awards night. For instance, the awards night dinner could be the opportunity for the race organizers to share the history of how the Epic Relay came to be. Until now, hardly anybody knows how it came to be and how the area of Bataan and Zambales was chosen to be the host of the event. In fact, this entire event is a brainchild of Arleen Lindo the marketing manager of CHRIS SPORTS. Do you know that it took her one whole year to prepare for this event? There were lots of complaints about not pushing through with the event last year and some nationals even got angry since they already bought their tickets. Still, she told me over a cup of coffee during our discussion on the Filipino running community that she would rather postpone it than for the event to push through half-baked. And boy, I am glad that she made the right call on this one. This event turned out to be the second best race event that I’ve experienced for this year next to the BDM160. Kudos also goes to the technical race director whom I have also mentioned earlier.
2. Invite other traditional media to cover the event
Although I mentioned that there’s no real need to promote the event as word of mouth is fast and previous teams that joined the event would really talk about their experience to their colleagues and friends, I have yet to see any feature of the EPIC RELAY in television and radio stations. The event takes place in two provinces, Zambales and Bataan. It would be good to engage the local AM and FM radio stations. It might come as a surprise that many people in the provinces still listen to AM radios. This would at least give people who live along the highway of the race route an idea that a major race event is going to take place. I’ve seen the effect of engaging the local media and how the local communities react to it. One, the locals either join in the festivities and help out the runners. Two, the locals cheer on the runners. It’s so much fun to see children running along with the runners and asking for high fives. Three, it also offers better security as the local community knows that when something happens, they can immediately be counted to help out too. The television coverage would help bring this event to the world as the top television stations have presence internationally as their station can be among the channels subscribed.
For instance, there are team categories of the race event. Why not have a special contest for sports photographers that would join to cover the event? The first Epic Relay, the best photos that I’ve seen of the event was from those taken by Estan Cabigas. Although many teams had their own photographers, most of these are not really professional photographers. As CHRIS SPORTS aspires to make this event as part of their history and legacy, then it is only fitting to have the best photos of the Epic Relay captured by the best photographers as well.
3. Have a cutoff time at the race end
I do not know how true it is, but I didn’t see any detail at all about a cutoff time at the finish line. There are only two cutoff times. One, at Leg 10 which is at Mt. Samat the 10th runner should reach it by 18:00 hours. The second cutoff is in Zambales, where the runner assigned to that leg would have to reach it before 10:00 AM the following day. After reaching the second cutoff point, there’s no longer a cutoff time. This can be subject for abuse since the rest of the running teams that barely reached the second cutoff would just take their sweet time reaching the finish time knowing that there’s no pressure on their part to reach the finish line. I will probably get some flack for suggesting this, but I am also thinking of the race organizers. They too also need to rest, and there’s also a limit to the time of the race venue to be utilized too. Many runners are not aware of these limitations or constraints. In addition, it would truly raise the bar and standard of the Epic Relay event too.
- Better Directional Markers [++ Two Titanium Crosses]